This was a slogan that used to be bandied around years ago. To me it seemed like a funny quip about being overworked or overwhelmed and needing a break. But now – to me, it has a more sinister connotation. What do you do when you just can’t deal with life anymore?
Last year I was diagnosed with an illness. I never thought I’d be grateful to say that. But knowing this saved me from going out of my mind altogether. For a few of years before that I found myself slowing down – mentally and physically. Life was hard, stressful and I was just coming out of a long term relationship. I was working two part time jobs, volunteering and having qualified was working up my hours towards psychotherapy and counselling accreditation. I was in my 40’s but it felt more like my 90’s! Working and being a parent takes its toll. But I felt so bad I began to think the worst. As my energy levels sank, I began to doubt myself in every area of my life. I started to stress over little things, worried over the simplest task. What to give my child for lunch, worrying if he ate enough. What if he gets sick and/or dies? I got emotional and teary at the drop of a hat. Totally irrational thoughts sprang into my head. I stopped socialising. Cancelling and making excuses became my norm. I feared that I was not worthy company. I lost my confidence completely. I had nothing to say anymore. I got paranoid. I dreaded stopping to chat to anyone. An irrational fear and anxiousness seemed to grip me. I sometimes felt like I was going mad altogether. Was I depressed? Probably. I’d been here before. It’s a scary thought. Even though knew the symptoms to look for, I couldn’t make the connection for myself. I talked about it but really struggled to come to terms with not being ok. I continued to work as best I could but then I knew I had to stop.
I was alone for a year following the breakup of my marriage; but then I met someone. I was incredibly lucky to meet someone who fitted me so well. We got on great from the start and have never looked back. I was the most content I have ever been, but somehow I didn’t feel happy. What the hell? I was a trained counsellor and psychotherapist; this should not happen to me! But it did. I felt weak, vulnerable and I just couldn’t keep going on like this.
The boring medical bit:
What I had was Hyperparathyroidism which is an excess of parathyroid hormone in the bloodstream due to over activity of one or more of the body’s four parathyroid glands. These glands are about the size of a grain of rice and are located in your neck.
The parathyroid glands produce parathyroid hormone, which helps maintain an appropriate balance of calcium in the bloodstream and in tissues that depend on calcium for proper functioning. Common causes of parathyroid problems include benign growths on the gland and enlargement of at least two glands. In rare cases, a cancerous tumour causes this condition.
When symptoms occur, they’re the result of damage or dysfunction in other organs or tissues due to high calcium levels circulating in the blood and urine or too little calcium in bones.
The range of signs and symptoms include:
- Fragile bones that easily fracture (osteoporosis)
- Kidney stones
- Excessive urination
- Abdominal pain
- Tiring easily or weakness
- Depression or forgetfulness
- Bone and joint pain
- Frequent complaints of illness with no apparent cause
- Nausea, vomiting or loss of appetite (www.mayoclinic.org)
Apart from the fragile bones and kidney stones, I had all of the above symptoms. After visiting my GP and consultant endocrinologist, blood tests and scans confirmed her suspicions and I was ‘officially’ sick. I felt a mixture of relief and fear. I was glad there was a physiological cause for me feeling so bad because if there wasn’t that would mean I had it all in my head. The invisible illness of the mind is complex. It can be hard to express for the sufferer and hard to understand for the bystander. This is the hard part for me to admit. I work with people all the time who struggle to manage their emotions, are stressed, and depressed, traumatised and various other issues. I always considered myself to be empathic and fairly connected with my clients. Now I really understood how it felt to be the one suffering. I feel very humbled when people come to me seeking help. It’s a role I take very seriously. So I felt that I needed to be compassionate with myself in order to heal fully.
I was unable to work and spent my time on the couch in between small bursts of activity that would leave me feeling like I did a 10 mile hike. It can be incredibly hard to slow down but when your body lets you down and you have no choice, the conflict becomes more of mental battle. That little voice in your head telling you to get up and do something “you are so lazy”, “other people cope”, “nobody else would need to rest so much at your age”, “you should feel guilty”. A lot of negative thinking, a lack of exercise, bad eating habits led to the inevitable weight gain which led to more feelings of guilt and remorse. Way to go brain, you really did a number on me! Why is it when we are physically sick, we go down mentally too?
I kept thinking – it will be all great once I have the surgery. I waited for 5 months for that day and when it came I was almost on a high. Afterwards I could feel the physical improvements fairly quickly, my energy gradually returned. Although not fully yet. But it was my mood that didn’t recover. I still felt very low mentally. It is extremely hard to predict the pace of healing and I had severely under estimated the time required. I was left with a small scar on my neck, my daily reminder as I looked in the mirror that things were different now. I had to give myself more time to heal inside and out.
All this gave me the opportunity to pause a second and reflect on my life thus far. What was important to me? What was I doing that caused me stress and what could I do about it? Little by little I got better, I felt capable of making decisions again. My attitude to life has shifted a bit. I am less bothered about my career/work and more bothered about my family. I didn’t need to stop the world; just slow mine down a bit. I love my work and feel privileged to be able to do it. I try to acknowledge the negativity and put it in perspective. Things will be what they will be. The “Shoulds” and “Musts” have been removed and I do what I feel is the next right thing for me. I trust in my intuitive self that the path I am now following will be the right one. There is no stress, no pressure and rather than days full of expectation; I am pleasantly pleased when things go well. It feels so good to slow down. From this experience I have learned that I am still learning. I am human and will struggle from time to time, as do we all. But I like that changes that have occurred. I am content and happy and for that I am truly grateful.
We cannot avoid stress and a certain amount of anxiety in life, but we can manage how we react to it and what emotions are triggered by it. Taking control of your perceptions and emotions sometimes means challenging your core beliefs. Sometimes it means backing down from a standpoint that you always thought was right for you. Allowing myself to really listen to my body and give myself exactly what I needed has enhanced my life exponentially. Time is a precious thing, I don’t wish it away too quickly even for a speedy recovery.
Patience: the ability to endure waiting, delay, or provocation without becoming annoyed or upset or to persevere calmly when faced with difficulties.
Being patient will be my gift to myself.
Homo sum humani a me nihil alienum puto
“I am a human being, so nothing human is strange to me” (Terence)
By Trish Therkelsen MIACP
Arklow Centre for Psychotherapy and Counselling 089 4464 036
#hyperparathyroidism #mentalhealth #singleparents #counselling